Sri Lanka Genealogy Website


Status on a British Ceylonese Brigade


Glen Robert-Grant Hodgins

Political, Economic & Security Affairs Adviser

HM's Canadian High Commission for Sri Lanka

"Oliver Castle"

Cinnamon Gardens

Colombo 7, Sri Lanka




Fax: 94-1-687-049 (Sri Lanka)


Hon Members of the Durbar:


A few comments stemming from Christopher's latest gems of wisdom...


The CLI was not exclusively native. Many European members of the CCS were to be found amongst its members, mainly because most of them were based in Colombo (e.g.. Hubert Newnham). There were many others from other backgrounds such as Gwynne Griffith and John Gordon Fraser (a planting background name to reckon with if ever there was one). They happily served under more senior Ceylonese officers, including Tamils and Singhalese.


Yes, indeed. I should have clarified that my statement (ie., after the formation of the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps and Ceylon Mounted Rifles the CLI became "_almost_ exclusively" Ceylonese) was meant to apply to the rank and file rather than the officer corps.


I don't have aggregate figures immediately at hand for the post-1900 period but prior to 1900 (ie., the formation of the CPRC/CMR) the all-ranks ratio of native Ceylonese (both Burghers and ethnic Asians) to Britons remained about 3:1. For instance, in 1881, the year of formation of the CLIV, the following was ethnic breakdown of the corps...


(all ranks)

Britons: 229

Ceylonese Burghers: 479

Ceylonese Asians: 310

- ie., 779 Ceylonese and 229 Britons (ie., roughly 3:1)


This ratio roughly held until c. 1900 when most (but certianly not all) European O/Rs either transferred to another CVF unit or simply resigned all together; (like most demographic transitions this, of course, didn't happen overnight -- there was a transitional period).


Complete lists of the CLI (ie., including all O/Rs) for the inter-war period are hard to come by; but if one takes as more-or-less representative examples of the rank and file make up of the btln those OR's who particiapted in various rifle shooting matches, sports meets, other competitions and similar such events, (since the names of such participants were almost invariably printed in the local press and therefore still accessible to researchers), one would be hard-pressed to find a Briton's name amongst the ranks.


For instance consider the following example of participants in one such even in 1933 (chosen randomly by me from my notes)...


1933 Blake Shield Results:

Battalion Shot: Pte E.R. Wijesinghe, A Coy


Company Shots:

- HQ Wing: Cpl D.R. La Faber (Burgher)

- "A"Company Pte E.R. Wijesinghe (Singhalese)

- "C"Company Pte T.B. Amath (Muslim)

- "D"Company Sgt K.D.A. Abeysekeere (Singhalese)

- "E"Company Pte W.J. de Waas


Best Shots with Light Automatic Weapon:

- "A"Company Sgt J.B. Perera (Singhalese)

- "A"Company Pte R.E. Perera (Singhalese)

- "A"Company Cpl H.D. Zain Amath (Muslim/Malay)

- "A"Company Pte K.P. Charles ((Briton)

- "C"Company Pte E.H. Rezel (Muslim)

- "D"Company Pte T.D. John (most likely Estate Tamil)

- HQ Wing: Bugler T.K.S. Cassim (Muslim)


Best shot with Vickers Machine Gun: L/Cpl W.T.H. Mendis (Singhalese)


Of the 13 names given above, I would suggest that only Pte K.P. Charles is likely to be a Briton, [T.D. John is almost certainly a Christain (Anglican) Estate Tamil -- they almost all took surnames of John, William, (or Peter], giving a ratio of 13:1 of Ceylonese to Britons, (and P.K. Charles is just as likely as not to be another Estate Tamil). This, of course, is just an unscientific sample -- but I think one has to admit that it does indicate a marked shift in the demographics of the CLI during its first half century of existence, (ie., say 1883-1933). It seems to me fair to suggest therefore that the rank and file had become *almost* exclusively Ceylonese vice British by WWI.


If one examines the officer complement, the shift is even more marked. In 1882, (ie., one year after the formation of Ceylon Light Infantry Volunteers), the btln had 19 officers, made-up of 15 Britons and 4 Burghers (and NO Asian Ceylonese). In 1918 the CLI had 24 officers (ie., 9 Burghers; 7 Singhalese; 5 Britons -- or 16 Ceylonese "natives" and 9 Britons); and in 1936, 27 Ceylonese and 9 British officers.


In other words the officer make-up went from more than 3:1 (Britons to Ceylonese -- with no Asian Ceylonese) in 1881 to 1:3 (with a sizable number of Asian Ceylonese -- ie., Tamils and Singhalese). The ratio completely reversed.


I have appended the data upon which I based these figures at the end of this message for any one who wants to go through it more carefully.


Christopher also wrote...


1)    The main purpose behind having European volunteers in the colonies was

to have a knowledgeable and trained group of people ready in case of anti-British outbreaks of the type seen in the Indian mutiny. Some colonies even had compulsory service requirements for Europeans.

Their prime function was supposed to be internal security. In the case of Ceylon, the RN was supposed to be its protector from external attack.

Yes... but this brings up another interesting issue. I would agree unequivocally that this was the case in say 1881 -- but I've detected an (unstated?) assumption (particularly after WWI; perhaps even as early as the Boer War) that such colonial troops could form a type of an "Imperial Strategic Reserve" upon which the UK could draw in a large-scale conflict. Certainly their stated main purpose was local defence -- but I think the WO planners might have had other ideas as well. They tended not to openly state them, however, so as not to upset local treasurers who were loath to pay (at least in peace time) for anything which smacked of "Imperial" (vice local) defence. But the basic veracity of Christopher's point is well-taken and still stands.


Very often someone who went to, or was transferred to another colony, would then join a volunteer unit in the new place.


Yes... good for the Empire and the subsequent colony -- but bad for the original colony, which paid for all the initial training of such volunteers. Ironically it was exactly in this context that the Marxist Member of the Ceylon Legislature I referred to in my earlier correspondence was arguing: he was complaining that the Ceylonese tax-payer was paying to train men who then went off and joined the Malayan or Indian auxiliary forces. The obvious counter-point I suppose, (but one which did not enter into that particular parliamentary debate, surprisingly) was that Ceylon must have also benefitted from receiving men initially trained in other colonies.


2) ..., people actually joined, for largely social reasons. In the case of the planters, as another means to companionship and for contact with their fellows of like standing and that modern phenomenon, networking". Even Sir John Kotalawala, sometime Colonel in the CLI and later Hon. General in the Sri Lankan Army, admitted that he joined because he enjoyed riding.


Again... Yes, indeed. I've even come across references of chaps who claimed to have joined the volunteers simply to have access to the unit's library, for they were that desparate for good reading material way out in their isolated plantations.

3) I am afraid that the different ethnic communities in Ceylon were, and are as exclusive, perhaps even more so, than the British during the colonial regime. The system of caste, family cliques and nepotism seen in politics today, was as prevalent then as now. A young, isolated planter looking for friends and companionship would have felt quite out of place amongst them.


Alas.. absolutely correct; and as you say this observation still sadly holds very true today. Some might well argue it is the root cause of the civil war which has wreaked havoc here for a generation. ;-(

For similar reasons there were precious few Kandyans, aristocrats or otherwise, in the CLI or any of the other volunteer units. Most of the Singhalese in the volunteers came from the agrarian class/caste who had been educated along European lines. They were not really from the traditional aristocratic class but had been commercially successful during Dutch and British rule and had acquired land over a period of time or entered the professions.


Yes.. precious few; but still a few, nevertheless. The Ratwattes and Mologodas are two obvious examples which spring to mind. The former although of the old Kandyan aristocracy were not even officers in the CLI. Coincidently there was just a book published on this phenomenon called "Nobodies to Somebodies" about the rise of the new middle-class in Ceylon under the British.

Although my family come from a planting background, on both sides, I have to say that the general opinion amongst the "native" elite as well as the "colonial administrators" was rather low - poorly educated drunkards for the most part. Remember that the vast majority of planters were not personally wealthy. Also many of those who did come from British aristocratic backgrounds were, more often than not, black sheep or near-do-wells.


Yes, again. Although the movie is overall not very good, one can start to get a feel for the typical planter lifestyle by watching "Elephant Walk" (c.1954) with Elizabeth Taylor, Albert Finney (sp?) and Dana Andrews. The visiting planters come across as perpetually drunk adolescents. Definitely not the sort you would want your daughter to marry ;-)


3) the Burghers were a mixed community, mostly between Dutch and Singhalese, but the term was also applied in the low-country to mixed communities descended from the Portuguese and British as well (e.g.. the Morgans). The numbers of pure-blood Dutch families could be counted using the fingers on both hands alone.


Yes.. and as a result there is still a great deal of debate about what exactly a Burgher *is*. At least thrice a year one can count upon articles on the topic apppearing in the features section of the local press arguing one defintion or another. For my part I use the term "Burgher" to delimit those descended from the Dutch and "Eurasian" for the others. But any such typographical task is, I fully admit, open to errors and a certain degree of subjectivity. For instance, when does Burgher blood become watered down to such an extent that the off-springs are now Tamil or Singhalese? Or as you point out -- what if one parent is pure Dutch Burgher and the other pure British? What's the kid? Like I said, a lot of subjectivity. In the end, I supposed it must be based upon something as basic (and subjective) as knowing which names have, traditionally, been considered "Burgher".


At any rate, I must dash. I see that a 40 foot container is being manouvered perilously close to my window. Must be time to pack the sea shipment. :-)



Glen in Serendib (but not for long)


1882 CLI Officers



Capt John Patterson

Lt William Slade Boake


"B" Coy

Capt James van Langenberg

Lt (vacant)

2Lt Frederick Dornhorst


"C" Coy

Capt William Francis Courthope

Lt Alexander Thomson

2Lt Abraham Orlando Joseph



Capt Percy Cannington Oswald

Lt Richard Hillebrand Morgan

2Lt Adrian Charles Hope


"E" Coy

Capt: (vacant)

Lt Edward C. Britton

2Lt Ralph Tatham


"F"Company(Railway Department -- Europeans)

Capt William Cantrell

Lt Charles Good

2Lt Francis Mahan Green


"G"Company(Railway Dept -- Burghers)

Capt Charles Peter Layard

Lt Frederick Charles Turner

2Lt (vacant)


"H"Company(legal & Medical)

Capt Thomas Berwick

Lt Hector van Cuylenberg

2Lt (vacant)



1918 CLI Officers



CO: LtCol V. van Langenberg, VD (Burgher)

2I/C: Major B.W. Bawa (Burgher)

QM: Hon Lt B.M. Christoffelsx (Burgher)

Machine Gun Officer: Lt W. Sansoni (Burgher)

Transport Officer: Lt J.G. Vandersmagt (Burgher)

Bombing Officer: Lt P.S. Fernando (Singhalese)

Signalling Officer: Lt E.J. Jayaweera (Singhalese)

Assist Adj:t Capt C.A. Galpin (European/British)


- ie., 5 Burghers; 2 Singhalese; 1 Briton



"A" Company, (Colombo)

Company Commander: Capt & Hon Major H.R.H. van Cuylenberg, VD (Burgher)

Company 2I/C: vacant


#1 Platoon: Lt W. Sansoni (Burgher)

#2 Platoon: Lt W. Sansoni (until relieved)

#3 Platoon: Lt E.L. Mack (Burgher)

#4 Platoon: Lt P.S. Fernando (Singhalese)


"B" Company, (Colombo)

Company Commander: Capt E.W. Jayewardena (Singhalese)

Company 2I/C: vacant


#5 Platoon: Lt W.A. Dep (Burgher)

#6 Platoon: Lt W.A. Dep (until relieved)

#7 Platoon: 2Lt P.M. Battle (European/British)

#8 Platoon: Lt D.R. Wijewardene (Singhalese)


"C" Company, (Colombo)

Company Commander: Capt H.E. Newnham (European/British)

Company 2I/C: vacant


#9 Platoon: Lt J.G. Vandersmagt (Burgher)

#10 Platoon: Lt J.G. Vandersmagt (until relieved)

#11 Platoon: Lt E.G.P. Jayatilleke (Singhalese)

#12 Platoon: Lt E.L. Jayaweera (Singhalese)


"D" Company, (Outstations)

Company Commander: Capt A. de C. Carson (European/British)

Company 2I/C: Capt F. van Rooyen (Matale District) (Burgher)


#13 Platoon:

-Capt A.C.B. Jonklass (Hambantota District) (Burgher)

- Lt D.E. Jayatileke (Ratnapura District) (Singhalese)

- Lt F.A. Wickremaratne, (Matara District) (Singhalese)

#14 Platoon: Lt S.G. Sansoni (Chilaw District) (Burgher)

#15 Platoon:

- Lt R.F. Morgan (Nurawa Eliya District) (European/British)

- Lt C.P. Hall (Badulla District) (European/British)

#16 Platoon: Lt P.W. van Langenberg, (Kandy District) (Burgher)


- ie., 9 Burghers; 7 Singhalese; 5 Britons


****** Total for Senior NCO and Officer complement of CLI in 1918:

- 16 Ceylonese and 5 Britons ********


1936 CLI Officers (aggregates)



Singhalese: 2

Tamils: 1

Burghers: 4

Britons: 2


"A" Company

Singhalese: 1

Tamils: 1

Burghers: 1

Britons: 2


"B" Company

Singhalese: --

Tamils: 1

Burghers: 3

Britons: 1


"C" Company

Singhalese: --

Tamils: 3

Burghers: 1

Britons: 1


"D" Company

Singhalese: 2

Tamils: 2

Burghers: --

Britons: --


"E" Company

Singhalese: --

Tamils: 3

Burghers: --

Britons: 1


"F" Company

Singhalese: --

Tamils: 1

Burghers: 1

Britons: 2


TOTALS: 27 Ceylonese and 9 Britons (once again 3:1)